Venezuela Gives the U.S. 60 Days to Extradite “Fat Leonard”
Venezuela has cleared the way for the extradition of famed businessman Leonard Francis, aka “Fat Leonard,” to return to the United States after he attempted to escape custody and his upcoming sentencing in the now famous U.S. Navy bribery case. Venezuela’s signal that it would cooperate with the U.S. authorities came as members of the U.S. Congress also called for an investigation into how Francis was able to escape custody.
Universally known by the nickname used by officers in the U.S. Navy to describe the Malaysian businessman, he was at the center of one of the largest scandals in the Navy’s history. Fat Leonard bribed officers in the U.S. Navy to help his business win lucrative repair and service contracts and after being caught was cooperating with the prosecution for the naval officers. Days before his sentencing, Francis cut off a monitoring device and fled first to Mexico and then Cuba before being apprehended at an airport in Venezuela attempting to board a flight to Russia.
Venezuela’s top court last week cleared the way for the extradition to the United States. According to Reuters, the foreign ministry will make the official notification to the United States. Then the U.S. will have 60 days to make the formal request for the return of Francis. If the U.S. does not complete the process in time, Francis would be released according to the court order.
Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives have also requested details from the U.S. Department of Justice on the detention of Francis. They requested that any communications about Francis be turned over to a congressional oversight committee. According to a report last week in The San Diego Union-Tribune, the committee informed DOJ that they are “investigating the collective failure by the Department of Justice and U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services to adequately monitor” Francis.
Arrested in 2013, since early in 2018, Francis had been living in a series of homes in the San Diego area on a medical furlough from prison and while he was cooperating with prosecutors. The newspaper report cites security guards working at the homes who said that Fat Leonard quickly began breaking the rules of his home confinement.
In the days leading up to Francis’s escape, neighbors reportedly told law enforcement that they had seen rental trucks at the home. On the day of his escape, it took hours from when authorities first received a signal indicating tempering with the device until law enforcement entered the home to search for Francis.
The members of Congress investigating the case emphasized that the flight risk should have been apparent.